Grocery Master List

by Liz Weishaar

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Psst--Want to save money on your groceries? Want to spend less time grocery shopping? Want to have an organized pantry that works for you? Try the Grocery Master List.

A Little Prep Work...First, tape a piece of paper to the fridge. For a week or two, write down everything you eat or take out of the pantry to cook with.

You may want to ask your spouse and kids to participate, as well, depending on their ages and eating habits. In fact, asking your kids to do this exercise along with you can give you a good idea about your kids' preferred eating habits, so you can nip poor habits in the bud.

After a week or two, you'll have a pretty good list of most things you and your family eat or cook with: milk, bread, chips, soda, popcorn, ice cream--hey, where are all those fruits and vegetables we're supposed to be eating!

A Little Categorizing...Categorizing is the most important part of creating your master list, but you already have all the information you need. Sit down with your list from the refrigerator and rewrite it into categories. It's the categories that will make all the difference in shopping thriftily and quickly.

Categorizing gives you a quick way to see your shopping list the way you think about it. Do your categorizing thoroughly, and you can pretty much coast afterwards.

Our Grocery Master List is categorized by meals: Breakfast, milk, cereal, dried fruit, oatmeal; Lunch, sandwich bread, ham, cheese, turkey, pretzels, cookies, canned cola; Dinner: chicken, hamburger, lettuce, tomato, salad dressing, pasta, spaghetti sauce; Drinks; seltzer water, 2-liter colas--you get the idea.

You may want to organize your Grocery Master List by grocery aisles, or by individual, or by some hybrid method. Whatever makes the most sense to you.

And You Can Coast! Now that you have your Grocery Master List, or GML (like everything that's important in modern life, we can give it an acronym), worked out according to your categories, you can use it to handle everything having to do with groceries--and I mean everything. I use mine as a guide when I select recipes for the week, when I'm making my weekly grocery list, when I'm deciding what to put into my shopping cart, to help me remember to look for things I like to buy on sale, and even to organize my pantry. Let's see how this works.

Meal Planning--Your GML obviously lists the foods your family likes best, so it's easy to plan recipes and meals based on the list.

Weekly Grocery List--You can use your GML to check your refrigerator and pantry before you go to the store. Sure, you always remember to check the milk before you shop, but do you remember to check if you have enough of the popcorn your 15-year-old just can't live without? With the Grocery Master List, you can walk through the kitchen and pantry and just mark the things you're low on. You'll have an instant list every time you go to the store.

At the Store--Now you can walk confidently--and quickly--through the grocery story, putting into your cart the things on your list--and you'll get everything you need, without missing anything. This sort of pre-organization can save a lot of time, especially if you bring children along.

Buying on Sale--Knowing in advance exactly what you buy, you can plan to buy it when it's on sale. Having checked your refrigerator to see how much ice cream you have, you can decide to get some extra when it's on sale this week, so you won't have to buy it next week, when the prices are back to normal.

Pantry--The GML can help you organize your pantry, especially if you get into a rhythm of buying larger quantities of items when they're on sale--you buy up to the limit per customer when foods go on sale, right? If your kids are cereal hounds, you may want to keep 8 cereal boxes' worth of shelf space open.

Try the Grocery Master List--for a little up-front effort, you can save a lot of time and money at home and in the store.

Liz Weishaar wholeheartedly embraced the frugal lifestyle when her husband declared he wanted to have retired 5 years ago. She wishes he'd mentioned this earlier! Her latest challenge is weaning him off those $4 coffees. Liz has two decades' worth of experience writing in a variety of fields.

Take the Next Step:

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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